Leung Chun Ying

As elections loom, sartorial makeovers boom

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 July, 2012, 12:00am


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It's the season for the Legislative Council election and that means change - at least as far as lawmakers' wardrobes are concerned.

With September's poll offering five new 'super seats' elected by city-wide ballot, as well as extra geographical seats, the battle for political office is fiercer than ever, with fashion emerging as an unlikely battleground.

Liberal Party chairwoman Miriam Lau Kin-yee for one has overhauled her dress code. The 65-year-old lawyer has discarded her conservative business attire and metallic-frame glasses to don skinny trousers and stylish white spectacles. The transport sector lawmaker hopes to switch her functional seat for a geographical seat on Hong Kong Island.

Her fellow lawyers in the Civic Party are also hanging up their pricey outfits, switching to clothes associated with the grass roots in a series of promotional videos which they say show them bridging the perceived distance between lawmakers and their constituents.

The Democratic Party on its part has hired a former model to style three new geographical constituency hopefuls - Josephine Chan Shu-ying, Helena Wong Pik-wan and Wu Chi-wai. All are middle-aged, but the party hopes they will make it seem younger and more energetic.

Another politician on the rise, Starry Lee Wai-king, a new Executive Council member, has hired a stylist of Canto pop diva Faye Wong, as she seeks to become a 'super lawmaker' in the city-wide ballot.

Lee is an accountant in her late 30s and a lawmaker from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB). She has taken her political message to the pages of women's magazines, along with fellow DAB member Ann Chiang Lai-wan, who hopes to win the geographical seat in Kowloon West which Lee will vacate.

It's the kind of soft-focus political marketing that can grab eyeballs in this age of social media. But it's all the more reason for voters to exercise caution when choosing their candidate. After all, it's important to know what lies beneath a candidate's public image.

Leung Chun-ying's success in winning the chief executive race owed partly to his ability to portray himself as a family man from a grass-roots background with a fondness for farming. In contrast, the public image of his rival, Henry Tang Ying-yen, was that of a man born with the proverbial silver spoon, who was later found to own an underground wine cellar worth as much as a home.

The new chief executive used his 'man of the people' image to cultivate support - a Taiwanese official recalls receiving packages of vegetables and even a 'knee-long radish, via courier' from Leung. But 'Tang had little contacts with us', the official said.

Candidates' popularity was among the criteria Beijing set in deciding the chief-executive race, and Leung's carefully nurtured public image undoubtedly helped him. He was able to overcome allegations about his past and win the city's top job.

Ironically, one of Leung's first tasks after taking office yesterday is to explain the six illegal structures found at his home on The Peak - a row which echoes the illegal basement scandal that devastated Tang's campaign in February.

Critics said Leung's integrity was in doubt and his popularity subsequently nosedived.

It all goes to show that without the truth on their side, neither smiles nor farming produce can shield politicians from scandals.